Some of the 80,000 people who came to see the relic hand and forearm of St. Francis Xavier on its cross-Canada tour, including stops at Calgary’s St. Albert the Great Church, above, and St. Francis Xavier Parish inv, Ont., right. Photo by Lincoln Ho, Grandin Media

St. Francis Xavier’s Canadian tour leaves a lasting legacy

  • February 6, 2018
OTTAWA – Nearly 80,000 people across Canada thronged to see the relic of St. Francis Xavier that made a coast-to-coast pilgrimage Dec. 26-Feb. 3.

Angele Regnier, co-founder of Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) who accompanied every step of the pilgrimage, said the local bishops and priests were astonished by numbers.

“There’s a lot of hope that’s been inspired through the pilgrimage, especially the faithful, the priests, the bishops, seeing so many thousands of people come,” Regnier said. 

The right hand and forearm of the Jesuit missionary who baptized and blessed tens of thousands returned to Rome Feb. 4 with Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast and a delegation from CCO, including Regnier, her co-founder husband André, CCO president Jeff Lockert, and D’Arcy Murphy, who served as the Arm Guard on the pilgrimage.

After arriving in Rome, Prendergast celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving at the Church of the Gesù in Rome where the relic is usually housed in a side altar opposite the one housing the remains of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus.

“I’ve been blown away; it’s hard to put into words,” said Murphy, a University of Ottawa student who took a semester off to accompany the relic. “I have so many stories. It’s going to take years and years of my life to actually process everything, to understand all of these graces the Lord has been pouring out.”

The pilgrimage cost an estimated $230,000, said Prendergast, though final costs are not in yet, nor are all the donations. He expects any loss or surplus “will be minor.”

Though exhilarated at the response the relic pilgrimage received, the pilgrimage was a lot more work than expected, with a few unexpected glitches, such as finding out insurance costs for the priceless relic, were going to double, the archbishop said.

The relic’s pilgrimage culminated at Ottawa’s Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica Feb. 2, with a special Mass for the Feast of the Presentation during which Prendergast consecrated a new marble altar.

“By his life and zeal to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the Earth, Xavier challenges us to do the same today, to become what Pope Francis challenges us to be, missionary disciples who learn from Christ each day and share what we have come to know of Him and the Kingdom with others,” the archbishop said in his homily.

“Everybody’s told me they were pleased with what happened,” Pendergast said. “People are very happy about it. Any disgruntled people have not said very much.”

Regnier said their expectations were “pretty high,” because they had received some advice from Fr. Carlos Martins of the Companions of the Cross, who asked her to envision what the pilgrimage would be like when they were in the planning stages.

“Initially I thought it would be 500 people in a city,” she said. But Martins told her, “no, it would be more like 3,000.” 

Prendergast also expected big crowds because of the reception the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux received in 2001. For that pilgrimage, an estimated two million Catholics came, according to the CCCB website.

“In Quebec for example, they chose the largest churches and they weren’t big enough,” Prendergast said. “St. FX doesn’t have the same cachet as the Little Flower, but once the story gets out, his relic is fascinating.”

SFX relic armPhoto courtesy of Catholic Christian Outreach 

“Every single place we’ve gone to has underestimated the size of the crowd,” Regnier said. “Whatever the local people told us, we just put a zero after it.

“In Quebec City, they told us 100 and we got 1,500,” she said. “In St. John’s they predicted 150; we had 1,800.”

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